To Further Equip Your off-Site Engineering Crew, You’ll Need More than Just Productivity Software

In today’s world, engineering managers highly value the task of selecting the best resources to form their team.

The year 2022 witnessed a significant rise of 35% in the utilization of productivity and business applications. As a Technical Lead at Lantern, a company specializing in software products that assist individuals in planning for their end-of-life matters, I am responsible for managing a remote technical team. Effectively managing a dispersed team requires me to leverage an array of productivity tools and collaborate/cooperation strategies that I have gained through my experience of managing hybrid teams.

There is no need to be apprehensive about depending on asynchronous messages.

One practice that I have been unconsciously implementing for several years, and which has recently gained recognition is asynchronous communication. In other words, not every circumstance requires a meeting to be conducted, an aspect that I would like to emphasize.

Asynchronous communication refers to various techniques that facilitate communication between colleagues situated in diverse time zones or those with varying schedules. This disparity in schedules leads to a time lag between the submission and the receipt of information.

Considering the swift-paced nature of start-ups and the frequent occurrence of individuals taking on multiple responsibilities, it can be a daunting task to recollect or maintain the details of conversations that we held a month ago. It would not be feasible in such scenarios to merely approach someone’s desk, unlike in larger organizations.

Asynchronous communication forms an effective mode of communication when instantaneous conversations cannot be held. It is essential to ensure that all stakeholders have facile access to critical information through comprehensive documentation, the use of project management software, adherence to standardized procedures, and uniform modes of communication. In my experience, the ability to write lucidly and succinctly has proven to be an indispensable skill, and Loom, a screen-recording tool, has been particularly helpful when conducting presentations to team members without requiring physical meetings.

Understand the significance of the human factor in the workplace and assume the mantle of leadership with empathy.

It is crucial to recognize that personnel are not machines and can experience a broad range of emotions, including happiness, grief, affection, and humour. As a manager of a fast-paced remote team, it becomes imperative to take into account all facets of human sentiments.

In the current trying times, it may be tempting to belittle challenges or offer reassurances by stating “everything will be fine in the end.” However, as we navigate through the Covid-19 pandemic, this becomes a vital approach to follow.

During times of distress, whether individually or as a team, it is vital to accept and acknowledge the situation. Doing so presents us with more opportunities and enables us to respond effectively. At Lantern, I believe we have been successful in this regard. Our team aims to accommodate or provide support to those who require time for themselves.

I have observed that exhibiting compassionate leadership traits during my one-on-one meetings with the team has resulted in significant benefits. Remote work implies that establishing similar connections to those we had in the office, such as familiarizing ourselves with our co-worker’s interests and TV show preferences, can be challenging, making it all the more crucial to demonstrate empathy towards our colleagues.

To address this, I have included softer, more casual questions during my one-on-one interactions, such as asking about weekend plans or enquiring about their current reading preferences.

Indeed, this was not overlooked.

In the past, engineers’ one-on-one meetings were primarily focused on completing tasks on a checklist. However, when I expressed my earnest interest in getting to know them better, the response I received was overwhelmingly positive. Developing robust relationships with my colleagues and interacting with them is what I find most enjoyable about my work. This is one of my significant sources of motivation, and I would hate to miss out on it as it enhances my professional growth. Consequently, it becomes indispensable always to prioritize the human aspect of our team.

Reconsidering deadlines from scratch becomes imperative.

Initially, I would like to express an unappreciated opinion, which is that I generally do not welcome stringent deadlines being imposed on me.

Imposing a strict timeframe, whether it is a day or six hours, is not practical when it comes to engineering projects. This is not the usual approach to engineering. Several factors are at play, such as the codebase and the engineer’s familiarity with the task at hand. Hence, when determining the deadline for achieving a goal, certain level of flexibility should be given.

Nevertheless, my general principle to adhere to stringent deadlines involves using intense prioritization and meticulous de-scoping of tasks.

Prioritization implies assigning the highest precedence to the project components that are most pertinent to addressing the problem. Similarly, de-scoping implies eliminating any non-essential deliverables that were initially part of the brief.

Both demand that we ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of this?”

If the project scope is not meticulously monitored, scope creep can become a potential risk. User requests for additional alterations and changes may cause the project to expand beyond the original plan. In such cases, due to the increased feature count, meeting the set deadline may become arduous.

I am consistently exploring options to simplify requests we receive, ensuring that the end product is of top quality. Instead of trying to rush the development of massive amounts of code, which frequently leads to poorly written code, our focus should be on actively releasing smaller, incremental code pieces more frequently.

You can confidently decline frequently.

When working under tight deadlines, it becomes crucial to have complete comprehension of the issue before advancing to the next steps. By going beyond the superficial, we may discover a long-term solution.

Observing that users infrequently post images on our app may lead us to promptly introduce a new sharing function. However, it is imperative that we take the necessary time to comprehensively assess all possible solutions before arriving at a decision.

In such scenarios, I often have to intervene and question, “Let’s pause for a moment! Where is the crux of this issue?”

We need to consider the consequences of displaying the images to a wider audience, whether it is through physical or online means. Additionally, we should assess the image quality level and the ease of use for the user while sharing them.

Proper management of scope creep may be accomplished by establishing clear objectives. This enables us to develop the necessary functionality without excessively expending resources or time. In other words, our financial resources cannot be compared to those of Google.

There is always a new learning opportunity.

My experience at Lantern has aided me in gaining valuable perspective on how to efficiently manage a dispersed team. Although our principal team is located throughout the US and our in-house Works engineer operates from Asia, we persist in attaining substantial progress with every passing day.

From a technological perspective, the pandemic has led to the introduction of several advantageous practices. Novel resources for managing remote or distributed working conditions are being continually developed, making this an optimal time to helm a distributed engineering team.

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